It is clear from the first moment of meeting Martina that she is an enthusiastic marine biologist committed to protecting marine life. Her expertise lies in chemical and microplastic pollution, and she combines her work as a scientist with her commitment at the Italian Federation of Aquatic Rescue (FISA).

"Even if you recycle plastic, you cannot get rid of it in its entirety. This contributes to growing pollution, and in turn, contribute to the majority of marine litter,” Martina said. 

Microplastics are defined as plastic particles smaller than 5mm. The fragmentation process leads to the production of 'secondary microplastics'. 

Many kits onboard rescue vessels are made from plastic that, when aged and weathered, can contribute to microplastics in the ocean and marine environment. Many companies have started manufacturing more environmentally friendly and sustainable gear as a result. However, it is a double-edged sword, as reliable equipment is essential and some of the components are manufactured from plastics. Therefore, a balance between environmentally friendly and durable, visible equipment that will not impact the rescue operation must be obtained. 

Incorporating her knowledge of microplastics, Martina started the Sea Rescuers Against Plastics (SRAP) and, with the help of lifeguards in Italy, has been educating the public on microplastic issues and launched several beach clean-up events. 

"I conduct lifeguard training courses at FISA, and the SRAP campaign aims to appoint lifeguards as ambassadors for the campaign. Lifeguards work all over the Italian coasts every summer, with beaches highly populated with tourists. This brings an additional threat of rubbish left behind. Lifeguards involved with the SRAP campaign are educated about reducing plastic pollution, and it is reiterated at every training session," she said.

Martina envisages that this would create a green wave that touches beachgoers, amplifying the effect throughout the community.

Another part of the campaign is educating lifeguards about the campaign before they are certified. FISA training takes four to six months to qualify as a lifeguard, and some of the modules are taught in the ocean and at the beaches; therefore, trainees spend many hours in the water and at the beach. SRAP has incorporated the training on plastic pollution as part of the training modules of many delegations, and some time is allocated for beach clean-ups.

"Lifeguards are some of the first to avoid single-use plastic and they are educated in the correct methods of recycling and pass-on single-use plastic" she added. 

According to Martina, the campaign started very successfully, creating critical engagement, and getting many in Italy involved. 

However, in 2020, when Covid-19 hit, the world came to a halt, and with it, single-use plastics were back in full force. Using plastic saved lives as many of the measures for Covid were packaged in single-use plastics. 

With lockdowns lifting, Martina hopes the SRAP campaign can return to full force.

"We are getting back to eliminating single-use plastics again. We started implementing strategies to limit single-use plastics in our area, for example, reusable water bottles. We want to grow this campaign over the next 12 months and not restrict it to lifeguards only. One way is to educate children early on to ensure the future generation is well-educated and aware of actions they can take to have an influence. Even the most minor action can make a big difference." 

As part of the initiative, SRAP has established field laboratories and contacted schools to set up field trips to the beach to raise awareness. 

"When they arrive at the beach, we teach them about plastic pollution ‘ impact on the ocean's biodiversity and health. We show them what microplastics look like and get them involved in clean-ups," she said. 

Each child brings a sift, a spoon and a glass container from home and a specific area on the beach is allocated to each child. They filter the sand and, when they find microplastics, they put that in the glass container, which is correctly disposed of afterwards. 

“It is a fantastic way to show children that plastic is present in an almost invisible way and an informal and fun way of learning,” she added. 

Although she is not an expert on climate change, it is becoming a more significant challenge for search and rescue (SAR) operators and organisations. 

Martina says: "It is essential to enhance operator knowledge and include climate change in the training schedules. SAR personnel must be aware of and educated on climate change.”